Hodge reminds the haters why he's leading the Hawks
TO BORROW a line from Mark Twain - and twist it a little to suit the purposes of this article - reports of Luke Hodge's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
The Hawks skipper was written off by some at the start of the year, due to a belief his 28-year-old body was failing him after a decade of using it as a battering ram.
Niggling injuries restricted him to 10 games in 2012, before surgery on his left knee interrupted his preparation for 2013, forcing him to miss his side's opener against Geelong.
But, just like his Brisbane counterpart Jonathan Brown did against Gold Coast, the Hawks' bullocking general gave the football world a not-so gentle reminder of his considerable powers last round.
Gathering a team-high 31 disposals, including 17 contested, and booting two big goals, Hodge was the driving force behind the Hawks' barnstorming win over Collingwood.
Okay, he got one kick he shouldn't have when he was awarded a free after Magpie defender Harry O'Brien supposedly caught him high - and the AFL did the right thing during the week by admitting the ump made a mistake under the new sliding rule - but most were typically hard-earned.
Asked what makes him so good, the answer is his smart footy brain and sublime skills, and his absolute relentless attack on the footy.
Again, like Brown (2007, 2008 and 2011), Hodge is a past winner of the AFL Players' Association Robert Rose Award for Most Courageous Player (2010).
Geelong skipper Joel Selwood, a winner of the award in 2009 and 2012, is in the same mould.
Both Hodge and Selwood end up with tape wrapped around their heads more often than during a match.
Hawthorn knew exactly what it was doing 12 years ago when it selected him with the No.1 pick in the 2001 national draft.
The Hawks had only narrowly missed a spot in that season's grand final, but managed to entice wooden spooner Fremantle to give up the top selection - something that would never happen now - in exchange for talls Trent Croad and Luke McPharlin.
To be fair on the Dockers, while Croad returned home two years later, McPharlin has become of the competition's premier defenders.
While the Hawks looked closely at Chris Judd for obvious reasons, they loved the 'lead-from-the-front' way the tough kid from country Victoria went about it.
Though he wasn't captain at that stage, in 2008 Hodge became one of the 17 premiership players and four Norm Smith Medallists the class of 2001 has produced so far - a remarkable record by a star-studded field, many of which are still going strong.
His then skipper Sam Mitchell, and fellow premiership players Campbell Brown and Rick Ladsen were also picked up by the Hawks.
While Brown is now at Gold Coast and Ladsen retired, the Hawks have since recruited two other 2001 draftees, David Hale and Brian Harris.
The latter now goes by the name of Brian Lake and will make his debut in the brown and gold tomorrow.
As well as being another of the premiership and Norm Smith Medal winners, Judd, taken at No.3 by West Coast behind Hodge and Luke Ball, also has two of the five Brownlow Medals awarded to players drafted that day, one won with Carlton.
Sydney took a chance on rugby union convert from its home state, Lewis Roberts-Thomson, who would go on to play in two premierships, while Collingwood also had a punt late in the draft when it took another future Brownlow and premiership winner Dane Swan.
The Cats laid the foundation for their reign of success a few years later by snaring future three-time premiership players Jimmy Bartel (also a Brownlow and North Smith medallist), Steve Johnson (also a Norm Smith Medallist) and James Kelly, and a father-son selection by the name of Gary Ablett at pick No.40.
As good as Hodge, Judd, and Bartel have been, there is no doubt Gazza Junior would be ranked No.1 among the 2001 group now.
Such is the way at Melbourne, its top pick, Luke Molan (No.9), didn't play a game, the key forward never recovering from a broken leg in his first year.
It's worth noting though that overlooked in that draft, but finding AFL homes via the rookie draft were Andrew Carrazzo, Matthew Boyd, Nathan Bock, Quinten Lynch, Marty Mattner, Ben Rutten and Aaron Sandilands.
Super players who missed out in the 'Superdraft'.